Olly's Reviews > Kafka on the Shore

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
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Jun 16, 2008

liked it
Read in June, 2008

** spoiler alert ** So here goes:

For some reason I keep being drawn back to Murakami. With each new book that I read, I find myself wanting to like him more than I ever really do. I'm pretty sure I only started reading him after having read a couple of David Mitchell books. I think my problem is that I went looking for the Murakami that David Mitchell was emulating (or the Murakami to whom Mitchell was paying tribute) and apart from a few allusions that I now understand, I don't think I've found him yet. That's not to say that I don't enjoy reading his books; I enjoy them for the most part but I definitely don't love them. I think my favorite so far is SPUTNIK SWEETHEART the first book of his that I read (a couple books ago) which felt a little like parts of THE MAGUS and LE GRAND MEAULNES.

I guess I enjoyed KAFKA ON THE SHORE in the end, even if I found it mostly frustrating. There were a number of things (not just dialogue) that really bothered me for the first three-quarters of the book. After that, I was able to let it go a little...I'd like to give the author the benefit of the doubt and blame the translator/translation quality...but I'm skeptical.

In response to the Kafka question: I don't think there's anything wrong with liking Kafka. I haven't read anything that recently (I reread THE CASTLE a year or two ago) so this commentary might not be too accurate. I'm not 100% sure how relate this book to Kafka. Kafka is clearly one (of many)influences for Murakami (SPUTNIK SWEETHEART had a character named "K"). The narrator tells us that Kafka means crow...and the Kafka in this book has a sort of imaginary counterpart named crow (who becomes a crow at one point...possibly in a dream(?)). But other than that, this didn't feel too much like Kafka (even, I suspect, where it was supposed to). What I like about the surreal or magical-realistic aspect of Kafka is that it's so grounded in reality, all of the details have been so thoroughly researched, that it feels real. But with Murakami, the surreal episodes feel like they've just been plunked in, on a whim and there's so many of them that don't seem at all related. Compared to THE METAMORPHASIS, the deus ex machinae of the fish and leeches falling from the sky (which as far as I can tell was never explained except by saying that one of the characters "made it happen") seems like just that...an easy out...a means of not having to explain or resolve plot holes or allow the story to progress organically.

It doesn't bother me that the Nakata character talks with cats...but does the dialogue have to be so bad (even with the character being mentally challenged)? And then there was the whole Johnny Walker, Colonel Sanders thing; which I guess could have been some sort of critique of western export...consumer culture or whatever which would have been fine)...but all I could think of was Murakami with writer's block over a half-eaten bucket of popcorn chicken and half-empty bottle of scotch trying to come up with something useful. Oh, I almost forgot the description of sex in his books that always seems so creepy, cold and generally off-putting.

To his credit: one of my favorite parts of the book was where the boy goes to the cabin in the woods and then on to the utopian limbo...I feel like I've read a lot of things like this lately that did what HM was trying to do (only better) but this was still good...and this section did feel intentional and deliberate...(and I guess just a little bit like an episode of Lost). Also, I should probably mention that I liked his essay on running in the New Yorker a couple of weeks ago.

Sorry this review might be worse than before, but I don't have time (or probably the capacity) to make it any better.

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Comments (showing 1-4)

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message 4: by Liz (new)

Liz You have to let me know what you think of this when you're done with it, Olly. Are you a big Murakami fan? I have very mixed feelings on his work, but was greatly entertained by this one if nothing else.

message 3: by Antoine (new)

Antoine As a Kafka fan (does that make me fucked up?) I want to know what you think too. The world awaits your judgement.

message 2: by Christopher (new)

Christopher I completely agree Olly. Sputnik Sweetheart was the first Murakami I read and the last I liked (and completely reminds me of The Magus). Everything since has seemed a bit self-indulgent and, frankly, unimpressive despite my high expectations. That said, I haven't read Kafka on the Shore, so I may be speaking out of school.

Olly I just came across this:

I wonder how I never saw it before. It makes me feel a little better about Mitchell, I suppose a little better about my review/rant (apart from the fact that it read like a fourth-grade book review)and maybe even just a little bit better about Murakami.

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